FORT SILL, Okla., Feb. 16, 2017 — Working in conjunction with the 95th Adjudant General Battalion (Reception), the 434th Field Artillery Brigade has implemented a new initiative to get basic combat training (BCT) Soldiers processed and assigned to a battery faster.
This initiative is being called a split fill because it splits the days that the BCT Soldiers fill a battery. Traditionally, this was done on a Wednesday or Thursday. Under the new initiative, the BCT Soldiers will be assigned and report to a battery over a period of two days beginning Monday. The program’s intent is to benefit everyone involved.
By filling a battery earlier in the week, the total training time for a BCT Soldier is 67 days. That’s two extra days that drill sergeants and cadre can work with these new Soldiers to help craft them into the Army’s next generation.
The 95th AG is responsible for conducting reception operations for BCT Soldiers who arrive at Fort Sill. It also provides the space for medical evaluations and counseling, as well as the housing quarters for BCT Soldiers. One of the main initiatives in this split fill concept is to reduce the time that a Soldier spends in the reception battalion. Since being built five years ago, the 95th building has served as the starting point for all new trainees.
After arriving from their respective Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), a Fort Sill trainee can spend up to a week and a half at the 95th, going through a rigorous evaluation process that included a variety of medical testing.
“We spend more time on medical evaluations here at Fort Sill than other installations because we feel it’s beneficial. We make sure the Soldiers are completely in-processed here,” said Col. Lee Overby, 434th FAB commander.
While it’s a well vetted process, it also takes longer for BCT Soldiers to process here than it does at other installations.
Unlike at Fort Jackson, an installation that houses 50 percent of all Army trainees, Fort Sill trainees meet individually with medical providers. Though it takes time, it’s a thorough process.
“They aren’t handed over to a battery until everything is complete because we want them to completely focus on training, so that’s why it takes a little more time here,” said Overby.
While this is an approach that has been well tested, it is also one that comes with some risk. Even though the 95th does everything possible to ensure that the trainee Soldiers are kept busy, sometimes there just isn’t anything for them to do, and when there’s little to do, some Soldiers begin having second thoughts about joining the military or may consider harming themselves.
“What we’ve done in the past is that we’ve filled an entire battery in one day and we’ve done that because it’s very convenient for the battery. But what we found is that a lot of suicide ideations happen in reception. Part of the problem we attributed to this is that the trainees spend longer than they need in reception,” said Overby.
Suicide ideation is any behavior that suggests an individual is thinking about or planning to harm themselves and it is something the Army takes very seriously. According to Overby and 1st Sgt. Raul Rangel, most of the suicide ideations that are expressed by BCT Soldiers occur while they’re waiting in reception.
Reducing the time that these trainees spend waiting to start their Army careers could cut down on those suicide ideations. Less time in reception means more time for the battery cadre to work with the new trainees, and the results should be measurable.
“It puts a little more of an onus to the BCT battery but in a way, it also helps them out too. They get their Soldiers for a few more days, so that gives them more time to work with them. In the end, it helps the BCT unit as well,” said Overby.
New trainee Soldiers arrive from MEPS Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights.
“The ones who show up on Wednesday end up waiting a week until they can be placed in a battery,” said Overby.
With the new split fill format, this will no longer happen.
“We’re going to run enough of a sample size to see if the program is working,” said Overby.
BCT batteries fill twice a week, so the pilot test is going to run for about three weeks. This will give all of the agencies involved enough time to determine if the program is going to work. If it does, this will likely become the new standard for BCT batteries here.
B Battery 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artilley cadre served as the test battery for this new initiative.
Lt. Col. William Pittman, battalion commander, said he was confident that the batteries in his battalion would be able to handle the change and learn as they go along.
“Once Bravo battery can figure out what’s feasible, left and right limits can be figured out,” he said.
More time with Soldiers means more work for drill sergeants and cadre members of the battery. Pittman stressed that the extra time available with the trainees will be beneficial to everyone in the end, and that each individual battery will likely determine its own approach to working with the drill sergeants to create the most interactive and effective BCT experience for the trainees.
“At this level, and even at the drill sergeant level, I think it’s going to be a success,” he added.
Pittman is confident that the drill sergeants will figure out the best approach for the split fill.
“What will affect them a little bit is that they have to be 100-percent ready,” he said but after one iteration, they’ll have it figured out.
He said that there have been plenty of times when changes occurred in the battalion that seemed challenging at first, but eventually, the perceived difficulties were overcome and the new way of doing things ended up being better than before.
“It’s a test bed now to get one battery to go through and take a look at potential issues and friction points. We’re going to spend a month to mitigate those issues so in March, we do three weeks. It’s an effort to get Soldiers out of there and faster to us so we get more positive hands-on control. Plus, two extra days are two extra days of drill sergeant contact time,” he added.
With a couple free days included in BCT, Pittman doesn’t plan to move forward any of the training BCT Soldiers experience.
“Realistically, at the end of the day, this new approach is oing to work. There’s really nothing that’s going to rock it,” he said.